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Many Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have been imprisoned for their beliefs. (file photo)

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to a lengthy prison term amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.

The Gagarin district court in the city of Sevastopol said on March 29 that it had sentenced a local resident to 6 1/2 years in prison after finding him guilty of organizing activities of the group that was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017, but is legal in Ukraine.

The court did not mention the man's name, but the Crimean Human Rights Group identified him as Viktor Stashevsky. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Stashevsky to seven years in prison.

Last week, Russia's Investigative Committee said that a 30-year-old resident of another Crimean city, Kerch, was detained on suspicion of being a member of the group.

Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.

The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were either convicted of extremism or are being held in pretrial detention.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who've been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

Ivan Zhdanov (left) with Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in 2019.

The father of Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has been detained on a charge of abuse of office.

Zhdanov wrote on social media on March 29 that his 66-year-old father Yury Zhdanov was sent to pretrial detention over the weekend after police searched his home in the city of Rostov-on-Don on March 26.

"I have no doubts that the criminal case was launched because of me and my activities," Zhdanov wrote, adding that his father's arrest was "absolutely a new level of villainy and turpitude from the presidential administration."

According to Zhdanov, before retirement last summer his father worked as an official in a remote town for several years.

Investigators now accuse Yury Zhdanov of recommending the town’s administration provide a local woman with a subsidized apartment though it later turned out that the woman's family had previously received housing allocations.

The apartment was later returned to municipal ownership in accordance with a court decision and no one among those who made the decision were held responsible.

"I do not know if the situation was intentionally organized to frame him. The events took place in July 2019, during the peak of the campaign in the Moscow municipal elections," Zhdanov wrote.

In late-July 2019, the younger Zhdanov was serving a 15-day jail term for taking part in an unsanctioned rally to protest against a decision by election officials to refuse to register him and several other opposition figures as candidates to the Moscow City Council.

Navalny's FBK is known for publishing investigative reports about corruption among Russia's top officials, including President Vladimir Putin.


The latest report focused on a lavish Black Sea mansion which Navalny's team called "a palace for Putin," capturing worldwide attention with more than 115 million views on YouTube.

The report showcases the luxurious, 100 billion-ruble ($1.32 billion) estate near the popular holiday town of Gelendzhik. It said Putin effectively owns this palace via a complex trail of companies.

The Kremlin has denied the report saying "one or several [businessmen] directly or indirectly own" the property, adding that it "has no right to reveal the names of these owners."

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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